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  • Ringside, 1925
  • Written by Jen Bryant
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780440421894
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  • Ringside, 1925
  • Written by Jen Bryant
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780375849381
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Ringside, 1925

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Written by Jen BryantAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Jen Bryant

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On Sale: February 12, 2008
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-375-84938-1
Published by : Knopf Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
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ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PRAISE PRAISE
Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Take a ringside seat at one of the most controversial trials in American history.

The year is 1925, and the students of Dayton, Tennessee, are ready for a summer of fishing, swimming, and drinking root beer floats at Robinson’s Drugstore. But when their science teacher, J. T. Scopes, is arrested for having taught Darwin’s theory of evolution, it seems it won’t be an ordinary summer in Dayton.

As Scopes’s trial proceeds, the small town pulses with energy and is faced with astonishing nationwide publicity. Suddenly surrounded by fascinating people and new ideas, Jimmy Lee, Pete, Marybeth, and Willy are thrilled. But amidst the excitement and circus-like atmosphere is a threatening sense of tension—not only in the courtroom, but among even the strongest of friends.

★ “The colorful facts [Bryant] retrieves, the personal story lines, and the deft rhythm of the narrative are more than enough invitation to readers to ponder the issues she raises.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred

Excerpt

Peter Sykes
That morning, Jimmy and me had hiked
clear to Connor's Pond, halfway up the mountain,
and back again. I hooked four bass

and three brown trout. Jimmy, who loves fishing
more than just about anything, caught
a dozen bluegills and a huge catfish his mother

promised to fry us for dinner. Soon as we got
back, we stashed our poles under the porch
and ran to Robinson's store for root beer floats.

We were sitting at the soda fountain,
sucking on our straws and listening to
Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" on the radio,

when Mr. Walter White asked: "You boys seen
Mr. Scopes?" With school being out and it being
summer, we figured the new science teacher
must be in trouble. But Mr. White is our
school superintendent, so we figured
we'd be in bigger trouble if we didn't tell.

"We saw him a half hour ago," I said,
"heading over to the school."
"Dressed for tennis," Jimmy added.

He hurried back to the table where
Mr. Robinson and Mr. Rappleyea waited.
Then the Hicks brothers, both Dayton lawyers,

showed up in their jalopy
and all five of them jabbered
like magpies at a picnic.


Willy Amos
Those big ol' houses at the edge of town . . .
Pa says they were once grand and beautiful.
Now they're mostly heaps of bricks,
wood planks, broken glass. Some got
trees growin' right out the roofs, vines
twistin' out the doorways.


Pa says back before I was born, when the mines
were open and the furnaces made metal
for the railroads and tall city buildin's,
white families lived there--
"lace curtains in the windows, easy chairs
an' daisies on the porches in summer," Pa says.

Well, that sure ain't how it looks this summer.
There's skunks in the cellar,
bats in the attic,
mice in the kitchen sink.

When I'm not helpin' Pa, I come here
to root through the hallways and closets,
searchin' for somethin' I might be able
to fix up and sell--a flower vase,
a tin box, a watch face left behind
when those families moved to places
where jobs come easier.

'Most every year
the town council changes the number
on the little wooden sign
sayin' how many folks live here:
3,000, 2,600, 2,100, . . . and last year 1,800.

Pa and me, we don't got much need
for big numbers. I'm not sure what they mean,
'ceptin' I know that the first one
is biggest and the last one is smallest
and that means people are leavin'.

Twelve. Now that's a number I'm used to.
I was born here twelve years back:
May 1913. I ain't never lived anyplace
but Dayton, Tennessee,
so that last number
still seems like plenty of folks to me.

But maybe someday, if I move to a big city
like New Orleans, Chicago, or Detroit,
get me a steady job,
I'll live near even more people,
and a lot fewer
mice and skunks.




Jimmy Lee Davis
Tarnation! Poor Mr. Scopes!
He didn't know why
Mr. White came
to fetch him from
his tennis game
& bring him into Robinson's.
Me & Pete sipped
our sodas & listened
as he confessed
that back in the spring
when we were still in school,
he assigned us
the chapter on evolution,
which explained how
all the animals on earth
had started as simpler creatures
millions of years ago,
& how, over time,
they changed & developed
into the insects, birds,
fish, & mammals
we see today,
& how, even now,
they were still changing.
(I try not to think of
fish as my ancestors
when I'm cleaning them.)

Mr. Robinson held up a copy
of Hunter's Civic Biology,
which is the book we used
in school, which is also
one of the books he sells
in his store, & asked:
"Did you use this in class?"
Calm as Connor's Pond,
Mr. Scopes said: "Sure I did, Fred.
You can't teach science
at Rhea County High
without using that book!"

Mr. Robinson smiled
wide as a catfish unhooked.
"Well, John, the American
Civil Liberties Union will pay
to defend the first person
who challenges the new law
against teaching evolution
in Tennessee. So we were
wondering if you'd mind
being arrested, to get
the whole business
right out on the table,
right here in Dayton."

Lordy! My ears
were burnin' & Pete near
choked to death
on his root beer.
Mr. Scopes saw us eaves-
dropping. He winked &
tipped his cap. "Sure, I guess
that'd be all right--
long as I can finish
my tennis match."
The men took turns
patting him on the back,
thanking him, telling him
not to worry; they'd send
someone down to
arrest him
later that afternoon.


Peter Sykes
I helped Marybeth Dodd with her groceries
and told her about Mr. Scopes. "Poor man,"
she said. "If he's a criminal, then I'm Babe Ruth."

We both laughed at the thought of that.
"Thanks a lot, Pete," she said, her smile flashing
in the sunlight. "Anytime, Marybeth," I said,

feeling the color rise in my cheeks. I quick
pedaled to the end of her street so she
didn't see. (What's gotten into me?)

Turning the corner, I rode fast and hard
across the tracks, up the hill, till
there were no more stores and houses,

just the farms spread out on either side,
like patchwork blankets as far as I could see.
I pedaled faster. Just about the time my thighs ached

and I needed a break, I came to the big oak
at the foot of Walton's Ridge. I leaned the bike
against the trunk, laced my shoes on tight, hiked

the steep dirt path made by the Cherokee
before there even was a Tennessee. At the top,
there's a flat rock called Buzzard's Point, where you

can stand and look out over the Tennessee River Valley,
watch the steam rise from the Southern Railway line
as it snakes its way from one end to the other.

Used to be, I'd climb up there to dream about
my future . . . running my own hardware store,
settling down with someone from school.


From the Hardcover edition.
Jen Bryant

About Jen Bryant

Jen Bryant - Ringside, 1925

Photo © Amy Dragoo for Daily Local News

1. You’ve written on a wide variety of topics. Where do you get your ideas?

Honestly, ideas are everywhere: in books I read, in people I talk to, in my own household and neighborhood. The challenge is to capture them and mold them into a story that will both entertain and inform my readers. I don’t have a standard method of choosing which ideas I will turn into books . . . it’s more like the ideas choose me! For example, my first novel, The Trial, began as I was writing a series of poems (which I intended to send to magazines) about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and murder case. Before I knew it, I had put everything else aside and was really delving into the facts and myths about the investigation and the trial. A brief visit back to my hometown of Flemington, New Jersey, where the 1935 trial took place, convinced me that I should try and tell the whole story in a verse novel.

2. You wrote more than a dozen biographies before turning to fiction. How did that experience affect your later writings?

I’ve always been fascinated with real events and real people–and I find them frequently more interesting and more bizarre than anything I could ever make up. I also love to research–and by that I mean I love to hunt for interesting and little-known facts. The research process is never boring! I travel to museums, archives, and small towns where significant events took place (such as the Scopes Monkey trial in Dayton, Tennessee); I go to plays and watch movies; I interview famous people and witnesses to history; I read historical documents, books, magazines, and web pages.

3. Your third novel, Pieces of Georgia, is a 13-year old girl’s journal about her dead mother, her still-grieving father, her athletic best friend, and her own desire to become an artist. How did you create this character–and why did you have her live on a horse farm?

Many aspect of my own life came crashing together in that book. When I was a teenager, I spent many Saturdays on a horse farm in central New Jersey, and I used those memories to create the setting for Pieces of Georgia. I also grew up next to a funeral home (my father and grandfather were undertakers), so I had a lot of opportunity to observe how grief and loss affect different people. I participated in three sports in high school, but still had a lot of free time to explore other interests. Now, however, sports have become year-round and hyper-competitive and so I created Georgia’s friend Tiffany to represent the difficulties that teens today must deal with if they’re into sports. Lastly, I didn’t go to school for writing, so I had to engage in a lot of trial-and-error to find my own style and voice. In Pieces of Georgia, that’s exactly how Georgia goes about learning how to draw.

4. Tell us about your recent novel Kaleidoscope Eyes.

The main plot involves three friends who stumble onto a set of maps they suspect may lead them to one of the buried treasures of the notorious pirate Captain Kidd. (I started this book long before the recent events involving modern pirates starting appearing in the news!) The story takes place in 1968, in a small town in southern New Jersey. The entire ‘60s decade was turbulent, but that year was especially so: we had the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the peak of the Vietnam War, and hundreds of antiwar protests and sit-ins. There were huge rock concerts and drug use was rampant. Civil rights and women’s rights were gaining momentum, but there remained many parts of society who were violently opposed to both. So–in a way, it’s a 17th-century pirate tale embedded in a 1960’s rock ’n’ roll era story. It was a lot of fun to research, and hopefully even more fun to read!


OTHER FAQs:

Where were you born?

Easton, Pennsylvania . . . but I only lived there for a few weeks. I spent most of my growing up years in Flemington, New Jersey.

Where did you go to college? What did you study?

I went to Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I majored in French and minored in German and Secondary Education. Jerry Spinelli–who is a good friend and one of my favorite authors–went there, too.

Where do you live now and who’s in your family?

I live in northern Chester County, Pennsylvania, with my husband, Neil; my daughter, Leigh; and our energetic springer spaniel, Sam.

What other jobs have you had besides being a writer?

I’ve been a waitress, a bank teller, a cross-country coach, a high school teacher, a college professor, member of a road crew, retail clerk, picture framer, and probably a few others I’m forgetting!

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

I visit our local YMCA almost daily to bike, lift weights, do aerobics or swim–and also to see people! (Writing is very still and very solitary.) At home, I enjoy wandering around our yard to fill the bird feeders, play with our dog, and occasionally do a little gardening. I also love to read good poetry, fiction, and biographies and to watch movies with my family. When I travel, I enjoy visiting museums–especially the smaller and more unusual ones. The Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., and the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore are two of my favorites. I am also a HUUUUGE Philadelphia Phillies fan and watch their games whenever I can!
Praise

Praise

Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, February 25, 2008:
“The colorful facts she retrieves, the personal story lines and the deft rhythm of the narrative are more than enough invitation to readers to ponder the issues she raises.”

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